Like many parents, I was taught to introduce solids very slowly to my baby. Start with cereals, then fruits and veggies. Wait two to three days between new foods to watch for an adverse reaction. I followed the rules carefully with both my children. With no history of food allergies in our family, I wasn’t very concerned with my first child, Alex. He loved solid foods and never had a negative reaction.
We had an entirely different experience with my 18-month old daughter, Avery. Her food allergy story starts with a serious case of eczema. Our pediatrician put me on notice early on: food allergies are at the root of about 40% of all cases of children with mild to severe eczema. That made me nervous. When she was six months old, I began introducing solids. I followed the rules, and watched her closely for symptoms.
I later learned that although people can develop food allergies to anything, only eight foods are responsible for 90% of all food allergies in America: eggs, milk, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts (such as walnuts and almonds), fish and shellfish. I also learned (too late) that allergens can transfer to children through breast milk.
I started to worry about food allergies as we neared her first birthday. When she tried cow’s milk, and later ate cake at her first birthday party, she got really itchy, agitated and had red marks on her skin (now I know they were hives).
I gave her children’s Benadryl and were determined she get food allergy testing at her 12-month well-baby check. With only one week until that appointment, I served Avery scrambled eggs (with milk) for dinner one evening, not realizing it was one of the most common food allergens. Within 2-3 minutes she became inconsolable, had red streaking and hives on her face and trunk. Her eyeballs turned pink. She was coughing.
I quickly gave her children’s Benadryl, called the doctor and brought her into Urgent Care to be seen. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. (Looking back, I should have called 911 and had an ambulance take us to an ER.)
The doctor who saw her ordered allergy testing and a few days later we realized what we were dealing with: Avery had food allergies to eggs, milk, soy and peanuts. We were also told to avoid tree nuts, fish and shellfish, as she could develop an allergy to them as well.
Our whole lives changed that day. Learning that my daughter could die if she had even a small taste of certain foods almost put me into shock. After picking up a prescription for two Epi-pen Juniors (the children’s dose of the self-administering Epi-pen shot), I quickly moved from shock into action and began researching food allergies.
I was amazed to learn that food allergies are increasingly common in children. Those under age five have higher rates of food allergy than those six to 18 (this is in part because many children can outgrow food allergies after years of avoiding the food). When tracking food allergies diagnoses over time, the Centers for Disease Control reports that the rate of food allergies of American children in 2007 was 18% higher than it was ten years earlier in 1997. Despite all the recent media attention on food allergy research, I learned there is no cure for food allergies, but there’s a good chance we’ll see one in the next ten years. Right now, the only way to prevent a food allergy reaction is strict avoidance.
The scariest thing about food allergies in small children is they can’t tell you about their symptoms, which typically appear within minutes to two hours after eating the food.
Little ones are also at risk of touching food residue (think sticky peanut butter fingerprints) and then putting their hands in their mouths, or eating unsafe food from a sibling or friend because they are too young to understand their food allergy.
Symptoms to watch for include: a tingling sensation in the mouth, swelling of the tongue, mouth (lips) or throat, difficulty breathing (coughing), hives, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness and even death. If your child shows any of these signs after eating a food, call your doctor’s office or 911 immediately.
If your child needs to be tested for food allergies, or has already been diagnosed, it’s very important you seek the care of a board-certified allergist with an interest in food allergies. Although pediatricians have some knowledge of food allergies, they are not specialists in this area.
Our family has been living with food allergies for six months, and new challenges present themselves each day. From learning how to carefully read food labels to partnering with our daycare provider to keep Avery safe away from home, food allergies are a big part of our daily lives.
For official information on food allergies, many professionals and families turn to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network and the Food Allergy Initiative. I’ve personally benefited greatly from the fellowship, education and support of the Food Allergy Support Group of Minnesota, along with hundreds of other local families.
You can find more of my food allergy posts, tips & recipes on my Food Allergy page. I’d also love to connect with you on my Marketing Mama facebook page and twitter. This post, and all posts on this blog, are written from my experiences as a parent of a child with food allergies. I am not a medical expert and encourage you to consult with a doctor on your personal medical situation.
This article was originally published as a guest post on the Star Tribune’s parenting blog, Cribsheet. To see the comments from the original post (18 comments and counting), follow this link.
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